New Zealand Law Society - Wagnerian shutter-bug and the law of luck

Wagnerian shutter-bug and the law of luck

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Unexpectedly exposed to and bitten by Wagnerian opera at Covent Garden in London when she was 12, Kirsty Swadling went on to enjoy classical singing and involvement with various choirs.

She was living with her parents in Europe for two years, where her Dad Harry was studying for his PhD and working part-time as a pharmacist before training for the Presbyterian ministry.

“I lived in France during school term time and in England in summertime,” says Kirsty.

Kirsty Elizabeth (Kirsty) Swadling
Entry to law
Graduated BA, LLB from Auckland University in 1986. Admitted in 1986.
Barrister and Mediator in Ponsonby Chambers, Auckland.
Speciality area
Family law.
Kirsty Swadling
Kirsty Swadling

“My parents bought tickets to the opera – I wasn’t supposed to be going – but then realised my Dad would be working, so I went and had my first exposure to Wagner.”

Kirsty, who used to play the cello and the piano, became hooked on opera and classical singing, and while liking a variety of musical styles, Wagner remains her favourite.

From a rich and diverse legal background, Kirsty has been practising law for about 30 years and was recently appointed chair of the Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society, taking over from Nelson-based barrister Michelle Duggan.

“I saw family law as an area where there was a need, where there was both a personal element and a legal element. There are interesting legal issues but I think that the skills people bring to bear in terms of their ability to deal with family law clients are an important element.

“My first case was a family protection claim and I have always done an element of family law in my practice. But I’ve done a wide variety of law alongside that. The specialisation came after I moved to the Bar. One of the reasons I moved to the Bar was to focus more particularly on a particular area and family was that area.”

With no other lawyers in the family, and no legal connections at all – her grandfather was a Parliamentary journalist for the former Evening Post – Kirsty says she got into law by luck.

“I finished college and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I decided a BA probably wasn’t enough and thought I would do law as well. When I was doing law I found that I really enjoyed it and decided I would keep on.”

When the family returned to New Zealand, they lived in Dunedin for three years while her father attended Knox College and entered the ministry.

Married to Graham, an engineer in health and safety management, the couple have a 23-year-old son who has graduated from engineering school and has just been on six months OE, a middle one at engineering school and an 18-year-old still at high school.

“I had a reasonable amount of science background at school and did computer science in Stage 2 of my BA, but I’m happy with my legal career.”

Northern Lights

Keen photographers who had their own home darkroom in the days of film cameras and before the family came along, Kirsty and Graham had a recent trip to Scandinavia to photograph the Northern Lights.

“We took all our camera gear, which includes three Nikon SLR digital bodies, stood out in the cold and got some photos of the Lights. When we had a dark room set up we processed real film and printed our own black and white pictures. With Photoshop now you can effectively do the same kind of thing digitally without getting messy and having chemical smells throughout the house.

“I like capturing animals and birds and landscapes. We did a photography tour along the Great Ocean Road near Melbourne one year which got me more interested in landscapes. We don’t exhibit but we made a calendar for 2017, which is a nice recollection.

“I have an interesting screensaver on my computer at work that cycles through all our photos. I enjoy candid telephoto stuff but with privacy becoming an issue it is a bit more awkward and kills it a bit.

“I enjoy travelling and getting to out of the way places in New Zealand, such as the Catlins in South Otago and Whakahoro, near the Wanganui River – a wonderful place with no cellphone reception.”

“I’m not a sporty person but Mum and Dad were trampers and I grew up tramping. When I get opportunity – which is few and far between these days – we get into the Waitakeres when we are out and about. On my bucket list is the Tongariro Crossing.

“My oldest son and I have a couple of days skiing booked for Queenstown – it’s become a bit of a mother and son tradition for us.

“One of my favourite places is Wanaka, which beats Queenstown hands down.”

Book club

Wanting to make sure she read for pleasure as well as work, Kirsty joined a book club a couple of years ago. “It guarantees reading at least one book a month. I’m currently reading Maurice Gee’s The Burning Boy.

“Gee and Maurice Shadbolt are my two favourite authors. I like New Zealand literature and also enjoy authors writing for teenagers, such as Margaret Mahy. There’s a number of good Kiwi authors writing for the teenage audience.

“TV is turn off the brain time. We watch Netflix, I enjoy The Good Wife and The Zoo. We got to some of the film festival this year, but no favourites.

“I drive an Audi S3 – not a V8, but still a fast little car.”

“Martin Luther King and Jane Austen would make interesting conversation over dinner, which, if it was winter, would be slow braised beef cheeks, with an apricot bread and butter pudding, all made by myself. Helped along with a Te Mata Coleraine.

“Engineering would be a quite good alternative career. In the bio-medical field. Failing that I would be a photographer.”

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